INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. – A Twin Cities mother launched a fundraising campaign to open a first-of-its-kind salon catering to people who use wheelchairs and people who live with disabilities.
Cat Rongitsch, 38, of Inver Grove Heights is a former hairstylist who started a GoFundMe campaign to open what she calls an accessible salon.
The idea was inspired by her daughter Betty, 3, who has developmental challenges associated with a premature birth, and mainly by her stepdaughter Maddie’s journey. The 9-year-old uses a wheelchair due to complications from spina bifida.
“I’ve had it itching in the back of my mind for a long time,” said Rongitsch. “She would come to my work and have to come through the back door, because the front door wasn’t accessible at our salon. The little scratch in my head got to a heavy knock.”
Rongitsch shared her idea with professionals in the beauty industry and received instant support. While she’s secured one investor so far, she began crowdfunding after realizing she needs $25,000 to outfit her salon with specialized accommodations.
“I want there to be a front door that anyone can go through, with dignity, not having to be shuffled through a weird side door," said Rongitsch. "I want special tile on the flooring for anyone with visual impairment to follow with their cane, headphones and weighted blankets, fidget toys, screens, quiet spaces, and special venting to make sure aromas don’t linger too long."
Rongitsch said extra tools come with extra costs. For instance, a silent hairdryer to accommodate people with sensory challenges costs $400. She’s also reaching out to therapists and medical professionals for guidance.
“It’s been truly amazing," she said. "I have strangers calling me and emailing me, saying, 'Why doesn’t this exist already?' The universe has opened up and said this needs to happen."
Rongitsch set a goal of opening by next fall and is searching for a location in St. Paul after an opportunity at another location recently fell through.
She calls her vision “dignified beauty," a mission inspired by her daughters, but designed to become a place where everyone belongs.
“There are limitations I never would have seen if I didn’t have these two little girls, and now I can see an opportunity,” said Rongitsch.